A circadian rhythm is your body’s daily cycle. It keeps your physical, mental and behavioral changes working like clockwork. Most living things have circadian rhythms, including plants and microorganisms.
Circadian rhythm is affected by natural factors produced by the body, but environmental factors like daylight can also have an effect.
Sleep cycles, eating habits, digestion, body temperature and hormone release are all influenced by circadian rhythm. Irregular rhythms have been linked to various health complications, including:
- Sleep disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder
Circadian Rhythms and Sleep
Your body’s clock controls the production of melanin, a natural hormone that makes you tired. When there is less light (at night), it is generally a signal for your body to produce more melanin. The circadian rhythm also controls when you wake up.
Resetting Your Internal Clock
Ninety percent of people in the U.S. use technological devices within an hour before bedtime. The popularity of using mobile devices, television and computers at night has led researchers to study how the light from those devices may affect circadian rhythm.
The blue light emitted by electronic devices delays the production of melanin, making it difficult to fall asleep. To minimize this effect, turn off electronic devices a couple hours before bed or whatever is realistic for you. A good substitute is reading an old-fashioned book.
Traveling between time zones can also wreak havoc on your body’s natural circadian rhythm. When your body’s existing rhythm conflicts with the normal time of your new destination, you might experience jetlag. It sometimes takes a couple days for your biological clock to reset.
People with rotating work schedules also find it difficult to maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
The best way to keep your circadian rhythm on track is by maintaining a regular schedule. If you go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day, your body will adjust to give you more energy throughout the day. It may also help to go for a walk each morning to expose your body to sunlight.
If you have problems with your sleep/wake schedule or feel that your circadian rhythm is otherwise off balance, schedule an appointment with your doctor to eliminate any underlying conditions and determine a plan to help regulate your circadian rhythm.